Nothing is stronger than a mother's love. This idea is explored and challenged in Charlotte's Song, an abstract performative piece conceived and choreographed by Nancy Ferragallo and co-directed by Andreas Robertz and Mario Golden. The piece tells the story of a mother and daughter's inextricably-linked fate as it is played out in the presence of a doll. Throughout the play, we learn of the mother's descent into psychological turmoil and its effects on her daughter. Over the years, Hannah and her daughter, Charlotte (played by Mario Golden and Yvette Quintero, respectively) keep in touch through letters, all of which are read aloud as a separate, lone figure steps out of the shadows. The figure, only know as The Other (Celeste Hastings), dances in a flurry of disjointed, transcendent choreography, acting as the physical embodiment of the mother's psychological world. What results is a creepy, at times disconcerting look at the dysfunctional relationship between a mother and daughter. The doll, Colleen, bears witness to it all and provides the chilling realization towards the end: when her own mother wasn't around, the doll was always there.
While rich in its concept, the play did not reflect this in it. Most of the play's text is told through the two characters' letters to one another, and while it was definitely important to each character's emotional arcs, it also started to lose its significance by the play's end. Repetitions of lines — which pertain to financial expenses Hannah has incurred — are at first a haunting accompaniment to the abstract aesthetic the piece is going for. However, after it extends for more than just a few minutes, it quickly becomes wearing, leaving one confused as to what the play is trying to say. Where the textual aspects of the play were shaky, other elements — such as design — managed to shine through. In addition, while the more captivating scenes were the dance sequences — which were choreographed not only by Ferragallo, but also by Hastings herself — the dancer and her connection to the Mother was not immediately made, and were it staged differently, would have made the play's message more powerful. Still, not all was lost: Alexander Bartenieff's lighting design was magnificent, lending itself beautifully to the dark whenever possible.
Co-director Andreas Robertz's sound design also helped play up the story's darker themes, perfectly complementing the aforementioned lighting, as well as the choreography. The two main actors also made eye-catching turns, breathing life into their characters as best they could. Quintero gave a strong performance as the beautiful but damaged titular character Charlotte. Golden was equally forceful as Hannah, going so far as to step into the audience, almost calling on them for help as she drifted into the dark.
If living inside your head is maddening enough, perhaps it is even more maddening trying to do so in a broken home. Charlotte's Song, despite its weaknesses, manages to take that madness within and physicalize it into a beautifully broken piece of dance.
Charlotte's Song is playing at the Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue at East 10th Street) until May 11. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased by calling 212-254-1109 or visiting www.theaterforthenewcity.net.